Just like with being a parent, there is skill involved in being a successful pet owner. There's more to it than just going to the pet shop and getting a puppy or a kitten. You are responsible for your pet's health, wellbeing and safety.
Make sure you can afford a pet
Once you have a pet, you need to be able to pay for the injections your pet will need, good pet food doesn't come cheaply, and footing vet bills when your pet is ill could be expensive. Unless you can afford to look after a pet properly, you shouldn't have one.
Be consistent in your rules
This is especially important for dogs. Inconsistency makes dogs nervous and uncertain. If you don't want a dog on the furniture, you should never allow it. Allowing it now and then makes the animal uncertain. And while we're on the topic, different people in the household should not apply different rules for pets. Decide on them together, and stick to them.
Have your pet spayed or neutered
That is unless you want to use the dog or cat for breeding purposes. There are few things that contribute more to the problem of stray or unwanted animals, than indiscriminate breeding of pets. Having one litter after the other also puts strain on your pets.
Take your dog for walks
Dogs need exercise and become grumpy and unmanageable when kept confined in yards or gardens. Especially dogs that need a lot of exercise, such as border collies. They need open spaces. If you are not prepared to commit yourself to taking your dog for a daily walk or run, you shouldn't have one.
Feed your animals at the same time every day
Pets are also creatures of habit, and they need the security of regular and predictable feeding times. It is not a good idea to let pets have unlimited access to food sources – many of them will eat too much, especially if they are bored, or feel anxious. Put the food down, leave it for half an hour, and then remove it. Make sure there is always fresh water for your animals.
Never hit your animals
Animals are hurt and confused by this and it does not solve any disciplinary problems. You may merely be taking out your anger on a defenceless animal. Don't go there. Usually your tone of voice is quite enough to convey displeasure. Also protect your pets from your toddlers. Small children can hurt pets quite badly without even realising what they are doing.
Pets need people
Cats can still spend quite a lot of time on their own and be fine with it, but dogs need lots of company. They are pack animals and get depressed if they are cooped up all day on their own. If you work fulltime, consider getting more than one dog, so they can keep each other company. Playing with your animals and spending fun times with them are so important. That's the point of having a pet in the first place.
Get a vet you trust
If your pet gets ill, or is hurt in some way, you want to know that your vet will do the best he or she can. Most pets don't like going to the vet, but you will be able to see quickly whether your vet likes animals and whether your pet likes him or her. If you are faced with a huge vet bill, remember that vets are often quite amenable to making arrangements to have bills paid off.
Have your pet ID-tagged
Pets get lost all the time. You only need to look at the Lost Section in the Classifieds of the local paper. If your pet has been ID-tagged, your chances of being reunited are just so much bigger.
Arrange adequate care when you are away
Unless you have a house sitter or a pet sitter that you trust, or a decent kennel that has been recommended, you shouldn't be going away. Your pets are your responsibility – especially when you are going on holiday.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated October 2010)